Let Go

I still remember the day that father took me up the mountain.
I gripped the bundle of wood tightly, desperate.
My hands swelled white with the strain
Fingers hurt beneath the grip
But I wasn’t letting go!
The marks would race across my palms
long after I dropped the pack.
Scars remain long past the hurt.

Dad had his hands full.
Dad carried his heart.
No, it didn’t beat from his sleeve or stream from his face.
Sometimes you have to look to see the world shaking.
The earthquake splitting my father’s heart it two
wouldn’t even measure on the Richter scale.
Those old-man hands shook with every step;
afraid that if he let go, let it out,
the shaking would wrack his body long
after his war-drum heart stopped

When we reached the top
I didn’t want to let go of my pack.
It was my one job, to hold the wood,
and letting go would mean I had nothing left.
The hardest thing to let go of is the one we hold too tight.
Finally I gave in, placed the logs on the alter,
sacrificing more than even my father knew.

He looked at me, tears in his eyes,
the first crack of that storm inside.
It was only then that I realized
he had given up everything for me.
His whole life waiting to raise me.
His whole life longing for the Promise.
He had me carry it all because without me he had nothing left
Everything hung on this wood, on my shoulders
A weight far too heavy for a father’s hands to carry.

I held the wood.
My body lay atop it, tied to this tree.
The knife shook in my father’s hands,
sky rolling and crashing above.
Could he pierce my skin?
Give up? Let go? Give in?
Knowing that scars remain long after the hurt.
The hardest thing to let go of is the one we hold too tight.
One bridge to cross between everything and nothing.
One cross to bear.
One knife to plunge.
One sacrifice to make.
One… and yet everything.
Sacrificing more than even I knew.

The end flashed in lightning strikes
Thunder groaned in agony.
My father turned his face away.
A weight for too heavy
for a father’s hands to carry
Couldn’t look. Couldn’t watch
Everything that he held dear torn away.
One knife to cut apart his dream. Cast lots
to keep the tattered remains of his heart together

“Stop.” The voice stilled his hand.
Father fell down.
Vulnerable. Broken.
Heart sacrificed on the alter of his ego.
The voice spoke through tears:
“The hardest thing to let go of is the one you hold too tight.
Now I know
you would give up everything for me.”

Looking back, I remember that day well.
I was only a boy then
barely knew the meaning of the word
But memories are perfect scars,
remain long after my father’s war-drum heart stopped beating.
He sacrificed more than even he knew:
A weight for too heavy for a son’s heart to carry.
So, I carry the wood, transfer the weight from shoulders to alter,
And let go.

Sometimes Janitors (A Role Playing Game)

Sometimes, being a janitor can be a hard job:
Cleaning floors that other people have dirtied,
Taking out the trash that no one wants to touch,
And cleaning toilets after someone left their crap behind.

Sometimes we stand there and take it like Mr. Clean:
Juice boxes spilled on the floor right beside the garbage,
Apple cores and banana peals using us as bin backboards.
Disrespected. We become part of the furniture that we wipe.

Sometimes we can get a little cranky.
“I just cleaned this floor!” We say,
words chasing muddy sneakers,
But all we see are the shadows they hide in.
We shake our heads at the three-point shots
of a ball through a hoop,
Wondering how such perfect aim
disappears when hoops and traded for toilet bowls.

Sometimes janitors have a dirty job.
Sometimes we meet the culprits,
(leaving the bathroom in a hurry)
… but often we don’t.
We inherit someone else’s dirty work
with our punched clocks
We wrestle other men’s demons
with a scrub brush and a bucket
And when the crap hits the fan
(a prank only juvenile’s think is assuming)
we are the first number on speed dial.

Sometimes we do the jobs no one wants to do.
Someone has to battle the monsters with a broadsword mop.
We carry magic spells in spray bottles,
Wipe away the sadness of pencil tips on desk tops
(memory monsters, struggles, and sorrow slugs that others have conjured up).
We deal with the dirt that slips through the cracks.

Sometimes people ask us “What do I do with this?”
Pulling you around like a tied trash bag.
“Just leave it here with me. I’ll take care of it.” We say.
They are far too eager to leave the undesirable at our feet.
“Where is the washroom?” They ask,
jumping from one foot to the next.
We show them where they can drop that load
that has weighed them down for far too long.
Sometimes they don’t ask,
simply track their dirt through your halls, across our floors,
leaving scars that take a mop head magic wand to cast away.

Sometimes, being a janitor can be a hard job:
Cleaning bodies that other people dirtied,
Taking out the trash from minds too long left untouch,
And cleaning souls of all the crap that someone else left behind.
When it all hits the fan
(a prank only monsters think is assuming)
we are the first number on speed dial.

Sand Castles

Ecclesiastes 1:2 – “ Life is fleeting, like a passing mist.
        It is like trying to catch hold of a breath;
    All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.

 – The VOICE

5550623402_4320068e17_zLife. Breathe it in.
Breathe out.
It is all but a simple breath.
One line on a page.
The dot at the end of our sentences.
The breath between our words.
We are the pause while God wonders what next to create.
We are clumps of clay in toddler fists.

All those great towers we work so hard to build
cannot hold back the dancing waves
cresting on the shore.
No amount of shouting or raised fists
can hold back the rain.
Sand castles
competing for attention.
Constantly crumbling.

Vapor. Dust. Breath.
A drop of rain in the ocean.
A snow flake lost in the swirling storms of life.
Here today. Gone tomorrow.
A vapor. Dust. Breath. Sand castles.

Life happens in this moment right now.
None of us can start our life tomorrow.
No one can hold time in a bubble.
It will always escape us.
The only thing we have is today.
Today’s smiles and struggles.

What are those struggles of yesterday?
Bills and paychecks both meet paper shredder
The same way
Every time.
High school traumas disappear behind gray hair clouds.
Lost lovers break our heart, but heart can mend.
To a child the world is ending all the time.
That toy that is broken.
That vegetable they must eat.
That time they have to leave a friend’s house.
Bed time tears.
Dust on a camera lens before the picture snaps.
A breath. Vapor. Sand castles.

Why argue about the past?
Why worry about the future?
What does the falling sky mean to someone who never looks at it?
What are those things that we laugh about later?
What are those arguments, squabbles?
Those moment when we have to be right.
Those times when we just can’t get along.
When we put ourselves higher than everyone else.
Dust in the sun rays.
Sand castles in a storm.

Release those moments to God.
He holds all those cells together in your body.
You have no control over it.
He takes the smashed pieces of our hearts from the dust.
We can never keep it together.
He fashions us into something different, something better…
Something new.
And he does it today.
Not tomorrow. Not yesterday.
God lives in the omnipresent now that is gone before out next breath.

3760119097_7a84b1378e_zLet us not worry about sand castles
Or try to hold our fists tight with dried clumps of clay.
What grown up is still torn to pieces at their smashed castles?
Most of us.
All of us.
All of us who are in the future and the past.
None of us that walk with God where he is,

So be now.
When the waves lap at the shore
Get your feet wet.
When they crash down on your castles
Sing in the rain.
And after the storm
Splash in the puddles of the past.
Breath in. Breathe out.
That moment is now gone.
So what will happen in your next breath?
Where is God?
Where are you?
Where am I?

John Cleaver

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/megaskakos/2499751093/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/megaskakos/2499751093/in/photostream/

How can you wake the dead? There is a point when we all must die, a point when life is a fading memory, when we have nothing left to hold onto, grasping at air but none will come. They say, in these times of darkness, weakness, and all that lies in between, that only one thing will draw us back. One thing, one thought: love. If we can reach out, find that thing that causes us to live, to want to life… the we can wake ourselves from the mighty beast: Slumber. Some may slumber until they sleep, slowly fading like a memory of past lives lived: there… but not really there. This is the way, though sad it my seem, we all wish to go. Some say they want to go out fighting, but

if we fight all of our lives, why then desire it in death? These people lie to themselves, trying to look strong for others, but flirting with weakness when they are alone.

Death is nothing pretty. It is the face between those fading memories that wills you to forget the love you want to hold onto, fights your will to go on… survive.

Many, without knowing it, are minions of the Great Slumber, servants of the beast. He causes emotions to battle each other until one prevails. Love is the enemy of our enemy. He does not battle against us, does not hate the living as it may seem Death should. No, death fights emotion with emotion. If love is that one thing that can bring us back from Eternal Sleep, that single thought to which we must hold for salvation, then Hatred is what drowns us.

We can justify many things. It always seems that the wrong is against us, at least this is the lie. Brother against brother. Sister against lover all vying for that last slice of pie as the plates come hurling towards us. When life gives you lemons, the trick is to make lemonade… but first you have to catch them.

For me, it was not a citrus circus from the sky, nor did the crowd throw stones. As a funeral director, death is a paycheck, though I don’t think of it that way. My opportunities are incredible, emotional times of final farewells, but also times when the worst of humanity comes out. It is as if the love of the loved one has run out, so those who remain have none left to give. If it is love that keeps us alive, no wonder so many people die, seeing the state of those that remain. Their canine claws pick over the remains, searching for scraps from the table of Death. (As if they didn’t have enough to feed themselves.)

My favourite funerals are those like my most recent final farewell. There is something special about sitting on the docks before the family arrives, waves laughing between your toes. They are so weak on the surface, yet great secrets swim underneath, power deep within. It is this taste of power that draws me in, the temptation of a little lap against my skin promising more further out to sea. It may be this that has, of late, caused so many to favor the waves over a dark, empty, lifeless pit for their dead. As the waves pull those pyres out to sea, it is almost as if they are alive again, slowly waving goodbye as they slip away. Then, once the waves have taken them over, the fire is lit. Flames explode in the distance to signify the power and glory of their final resting place. Not a dead hole, but living water, raging fire: not going out fighting, but the elements give the onlookers a taste.

But power is seductive. It sucks us in like those tiny lapping waves, tempting us to go deeper, deeper still until we are drowning in it. Then the fire erupts in our hearts, we burn for a while, die out and are forgotten.

I will never forget the power of that day: the eruption. It didn’t start until the whole family was gathered. So often, with challenging families, there is evidence of the danger before it comes—arguments over how to do the funeral: who will speak, how they will dress, what format to us, and (the more important) who will pay for it.

John Cleaver was known for being a quiet man, but went out with a bang. He planned it all down to a “T.” The letter was delivered to me at the moment of his passing by the attending physician. In Mr. Cleaver’s breast pocket was found two copies of a letter and instructions of where to mail them when that final sleep came for him. I received one, signed and seal, and its details were confirmed by the other recipient, John’s brother. He, as it happens, came into my office just as I was reading John’s final address for a second time. The letters were compared and confirmed to be holistically identical. From then on, there were no questions asked.

Mr. Cleaver left, in trust, a large sum of money to pay for all of the proceedings. And so it was that the late John Cleaver was attended by his family at the docks of Lake Lucifer. Not a word was said, save for the few between the brother of the deceased and myself at the delivery of the letter from John. I thought, as it seemed, that perhaps John was the father of their inherited silence. Slow to speak, thoughtful of the future, and the most humble endurer of long-suffering that I ever did know. Perhaps, if such had been the state of his family in its entirety, the funeral would have gone off without a hitch. As it were, however, there was another letter that Mr. Cleaver left with the attending doctor, one to be delivered a week later. Its contents, though I never learned their exact instructions, had to do with the matters of his estate. The postal system had been much improved since John first penned the letters, and so his intentions for the second letter arriving after his final farewell happened one day too early.

Each sibling pair (spouse and all) was the proud recipient of an identical letter insuring to the most minute detail who would inherit of the great wealth which he had accumulated over the years. It was not up to me to deal with such affairs, and all the better for it, yet in these moments of high emotions and low tides, I was the unfortunate recipient of the emotional results.

John never owed any debts. He didn’t believe in the concept, and as if such musings were enough to keep the claws of desire from him, John died as he had lived, no debts to be paid.

The proceedings began as usual, but there was something strange in the air. It was not simply the breeze from the west instead of the east. No, this was something far more foreboding, as if a cloud hung over me, though the sky couldn’t have been more clear. As I spoke of Mr. Cleaver, none seemed to notice me. I could have been speaking about an entirely different man and those in attendance would have made as much complaint as John himself. If the clouds had indeed decided to give way, the storm I felt coming made evident, surely the family would have drowned. Each and every nose in that place was up so high that the drink would have poured right in.

I kept my head down, secure in my notes about John. The more and more that I read them, the more I felt that surely this was the wrong funeral. I spoke of how loving Mr. Cleaver had been, how kind to all, always willing to give a hand. The man had more skills in his frail bones than everyone in attendance combined, yet more humility than a peasant. It appeared that the great Lake Lucifer would be more likely to reach up and pull me in than any of John’s family, would fate have it that I light myself afire when performing the final rights.

Slowly the event came to a close. With each word I wished that perhaps, this time, I had less to say about the dearly departed. But no, I could not slight Mr. Cleaver because of his family’s indifference towards the affair. The barge was waiting, John’s remains bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the waves. A soft drone began as the bagpipes picked up their tune. In and out, the waves matched cadence with the wind. In and out of human lungs, swirling, heaving a somber drone of farewell. The flutist began with a flourish, picking the notes carefully, as if plucking them from the water and drying them off before kissing the mouthpiece of his instrument and breathing out the tune. There was not singer in the group, but all knew the words.

I watched my lover float away
Beneath that moon of yor.
We’ll meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.

While the pipes droned and flute hummed, I pulled my arrow set with pitch. Two torches stood like mighty Gabriels, one to each side of the docks. Each guarded with swords aflame, grave robbers be warned. A nod to those pilgrim keepers and my arrow was lit. I drew back, fletching to ear, tail feathers whispering, one final message from them to beloved John Cleaver. I loosed the arrow. It flew, soared, the singer in those operatic skies whistling a farewell.

He lived with love and selflessness,
But now taken away.
No saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.

The arrow struck true, a tiny speck of light in that night so dark. Then, in the space between darkness and light, death and life, all was silent. The bagpipe drone faded, flute played out the tune, and I almost heard the wind whisper the name of the deceased. That single moment of silence was the culmination of the life of Mr. Cleaver. A moment that finally faded, yet not forgotten. The fire blazed, roared with its final farewell. A life well lived, death well reserved, soul taken to the clouds in flame. All that John once was burned with his body, the old dead and gone.

As a funeral director, the imagery gave me a blissful chill. What a beautiful sending off! I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t notice the fire raging behind me, until it was too late. No, not a fire of physical proportions, but one of rage. A raging ball from the family of the late John Cleaver: the man who loved the world so much that there was nothing left in those Cleaver genes.

Some say they want to go out fighting. I have never said that, never been one to pretend to be something that I am not. But Death, though I spent much time with him, shared no sympathies. I was not on fire, yet Lake Lucifer came for me. For one with a profession such as I, and so attuned to the symbolism of the waves, it may be assumed that I shared aquatic aptitude. That assumption, however, would be as false as those which I thought were John’s family. My end was not glorious: dying in battle, but not the way that some imagine. The waves acted as minions of the Great Slumber. Choking, coughing, gasping. No saviour from the selfishness of those crystal waves.

Between blinks of life and death, Mr. Cleaver shone: a beacon in that night so dark and cold. Logs spilled off the barge as flames ate through the ropes which held them fast. Around and around they tumbled in the waves until the fire were all but extinguished. Those loose cannons rolled while the great pyre at the centre blazed on, warmer than the man whose body was there laid.

It might have been that I knew Death, but He knew me not. John, however, knew me well. My. Cleaver owed no debts, not even to me, yet in one final act of love he reached out. The pyre flames morphed as they rose, higher and higher, great Gabriels to the right and left. They sat atop chariots set ablaze, horse hooves smoking as they descended. Great clouds of steam bloomed from the deeps: fire against water. I saw, between the waves, a figure standing amidst the flames: the very image of my late friend, John Cleaver. His hand stretched out toward me, a flaming spectre on a chariot. His voice was a whispering flute, yet so loud that it droned through the noise of the flames.

A saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.
We’’l meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.


It is from a place above that I now write you. No, not even the greatest imagery of my past profession could describe this place. John’s sending, though glorious it was, held no comparison. But, it is not of this that I write to you. Instead it is the witness of a doctor who has joined me in this place. A doctor who, in John, held a common friend and saviour. A doctor who also received a letter at the point of John’s passing regarding the estate of late Mr. Cleaver.

“I owe men nothing but love. May that be the treasure of my inheritance. I instruct you, dear doctor, to sell all that I own and buy gold by the pound. Place it beneath my pyre and let no man take hold of such treasure.” Unbeknownst to myself or the doctor, the family was not made aware of these arrangements until that final day, one too early, with me at the docks, and the great treasure of Mr. Cleaver floating among the waves.

The greatest minions of Slumber are these: wrath, greed, and pride. John’s family showed all of them. I have no more time to direct the Dead, myself having joined their ranks. Whoever it might be that takes my place, I leave to you this one final word. “If it had not been for John Cleaver who was on my side, when men rose up against me, they would have swallowed me alive. The waters would have overwhelmed me, and the swollen waters would have overtaken my soul.” Pride comes before a fall. And, if you ever get a chance to meet the lost family of Mr. Cleaver tell them this story. Tell them that in these dark times, only one things will draw them back: love.

Waiting For You

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/philipedmondson/1051130431/in/photostream/

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/philipedmondson/1051130431/in/photostream/

I can’t tell you how many times I thought you were here.
I thought I saw you last night
hiding beneath the shadow of the moon,
but that was just the sunshine
waiting for me to see it hadn’t gone anywhere.
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought you cared.
There were the little things like Sunday afternoons,
or the way that you would invite me over for a kiss,
or how you would whisper my name—
an orgasm trying to find space between the clouds of emptiness—
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew you.
You were the one who could make life seem magical.
You were the one pulling rabbits
from every black hole in my heart
until you showed me how the trick was done.
Until you showed me that my clouds are still full—
even though you made me forget how to cry—
scratches on the edges of my heart
Waiting for me… to fall.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought you were beautiful
because beauty is not a mathematical equation.
It is not a symmetrical face + big boobs + winning smile – body fat =
It is not something that you add to or subtract from.
It is more like a rabbit you can pull from a hat
before you realize the hat was empty all along,
and I’m left with darkness on one side of the equation and the “=”
waiting for me on the other.
Waiting for you.

I can’t tell you how many days it has been since the first day I saw you
because it feels like you never left.
It feels like maybe, if I scream at the clouds loud enough
they will stop to take a breath.
Or maybe, if I cry hard enough, the clouds will hold up their hands
in defeat because there is no competing with
me trying to get rid of something—someone—who just won’t leave.
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought I would never leave you
but some days I wished I had the strength to
because I knew no matter how much abuse this body could take
you would never leave any marks,
but I thought I knew you.
You wanted me to be the villain in this story, but you got tired of
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought we could make it work.
Some things belong together, are never apart
but how can a bowling ball love the pins
it keeps knocking down?
And every time I pick myself back up
I just stand there shivering at your near misses
wanting to pick you up out of the gutter,
but I know you will fight if I do,
so I stand up again and flinch
Waiting for you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed you.
How can I be in love with a broken mirror
that cuts me up as if I were your reflection?
But I’d rather be broken, smashed and bleeding
than a puzzle all put together with missing pieces
Waiting for you.

On Feeling Old

Note: Sometimes I feel older than I am and like to joke that I am an old man. This is a tribute to that feeling.

I am not old.
Not even close.
Yes, I enjoy 70s style diners and shelves lined with dust,
But better than dust
Books and a creaky rocking chair
Spelling out all my not so many years
Between front porch slats.
These whispers take me back to times
I never knew.
The antiques in my home remind me of all the years
I never had
But feel clinging to my scars like bookshelf dust.

I know about aching backs and popping knees
And that pain in my chest hides behind a cavity of bitter bones,
Skeletons too long in the closet:
Left to rot.
I know how everyone under 30 is irresponsible
And 50 is just waiting to dust off closet bones
Put colour in scars where it never belonged
beneath a coffin lid
Heaped with dust.

I grow out my hair and scuff my jeans,
Suicidal scrapes of falling down,
on my knees
Too often.
But there are decades between each lack of wrinkle
On my face.
Time says I am 23… or 24… 25?
Doesn’t matter.
It’s all a lie beneath 50 years of closet dust.

And so, I work my knee joints,
Forget the oil,
Cringe as my chest gives out
It’s message to the world
Just to say:
I’ve learned how to grumble with the best of them,
The rest of them,
And hope someone will find the colour
I lost beneath these scars
In my unwrinkled skin
To brush out this dust-greyed hair.

A Letter to My Unborn Child

Life starts in a womb room.
Walls block our way, but we do not think of them.
We push against the sides, not knowing what lay beyond,
Longing to find all the flavour and colour outside of this room that we do not think of.

Life passes us from one room to the next,
a mother not wanting her child.
Childhood holds us too long,
a small room we push against
hoping to crack its shell.
Adolescence is shorter still, yet feels even longer:
a smaller room with black walls of despair and empty promises.
But adulthood… adults, we wish to go back:
Not enough time to love our honeys, raise children—just make money,
And looking back, the rooms always seem larger than when there we were trapped.

Find a road, tunnel, river: whatever analogy you prefer.
See that little light shining at the end?
That is what we all work towards,
but desperately do not want to reach.
Lightposts, walls, tree branches clatter closer as we walk further,
and further, and further away from the first room of our conception
Until we are trapped between a rock and a hard place:
No amount of pushing against the walls makes either move,
and we have no conception of how we got there.
The road, tunnel, river gets smaller closer to that light.

You’re going to miss this,
these wide open spaces where you can stretch your arms
run back and forth, prolonging the trek forward.
The end is so short, so small, so darling
do not run into it.
It will not greet you like a schoolboy when you drop your books,
and when his hand touches yours you may feel the heat,
But that is just a light quickly expanding from heart to fingertips
because it has nowhere to go.
A tree with no more sky.
A child with no more room to run.
A stream finding the lake it has been drawn to all along
then finding out that the lake does not run with under-toes of adventure,
Merely sits.
Nowhere left to go.
Seemingly large and free,
but quite small in reality.

Darling, I do not know you yet.
This is maybe something that you will never get,
But I am afraid,
Afraid of the opportunity I will never forget,
And do not want to regret
never sharing this with you
Or forget.
So, darling, this is my message to you.

Stay in your room until it will hold you no more.
Yes, I do so long to hold you,
and in my dreams, you are already there, but please
The next room will wait.
Explore every corner.
Jump to the highest spaces that you can manage to reach
and if you need a step ladder, always ask.
Do not wait to grow longer legs
because in that next room where the legs wait…
the ceiling is lower. The world is smaller.

There will be times when room confinement feels like the worst punishment
When the world has grounded you, and you do not want to learn the lesson it wants to teach you, but please…
Darling, stay in your room until the door bursts from its hinges
so when you look back, it is not vacant,
empty: a white space filled with “if only”s.

Do you hear my words?
What language do they speak in that womb room, darling?
It has been so long.
I do not remember.
I hope that the day you understand my message to you—
That day when you can read this poem, and comprehend the language of my heartbeats—
the large rooms behind you are already full.
True, I could wait til then,
Maybe, til I know a bit more about you,
But then my message will arrive too late
Like a letter sunk with the ship,
and you have to find it tucked inside a coral reef
Long after empty rooms yawn taunting, empty mouths:
A toothless shark
Just grumbling snarls.

And when you finally do grow
and after we have met
and after, or before, or while you are still in the room where I left this letter to you:
Stay in your room.
So when I come up, you have not flown out the window,
So when I come to speak with you, you are there.
So when I ask what you have learned,
you will not grumble and give me no answer
But show me all the spots in the paint job that I missed
tell me of how the bedsheets crinkle just so when I sit,
and how the window whispers message to you
and contemplate the conception of the world itself.
Darling, this is not a punishment,
but a time to learn.
A time to never miss the little things:
The way the clock ticks in the hall… or doesn’t,
and why sometimes I wish it would just stop
so we could sit together in this perfect moment.
So when I ask what you did when sent to your room,
and you come out to tell me,
you will say
“Everything, daddy. Everything.”

This is Breathing

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/db-in-uk/3411989827

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/db-in-uk/3411989827

Each day, a blessing.
Each breath, a shuttered gasp
wheezing through window slats
like a swimmer almost drowned:
salt and sand and air.
Life. Vitality. This is breathing.

On the shore, freshly spewed from Ocean’s mouth,
I know what it feels like to be drowning:
like clouds before they dump their fill with mighty gasps,
beavers with broken dam,
a sinner who isn’t Noah,
a fish out of water—
no, man out of air, life;
I have more water than I know what to do with.
My lungs reject it like a desert oasis that is just a mirage,
an empty vessel sinking,
a washed up failure—
washed out,
slapped about.
Pulled from the waves on fisherman’s hook:
a trout
on the shore.
This is breathing.

They say we do not think about breathing.
(In, out. In, out.)
So natural, automatic… vital.
I wonder, did they query the one who rasps in the dark:
lungs smaller than shadows on a sunny day,
sweat on clammy hands,
and even raisins seem to hold breath within their wrinkled folds.
An asthmatic sprinter without a puffer,
a cracked open clam shell on the beach… smashed.
This is breathing.

Infants take 40-60 breaths per minute.
20-30 breaths for young children.
15-20 for teenagers.
Adults, 12-15.
Age steals our breaths—
And we do not think about it.
This is breathing.

(In. Out. In. Out.)
I need you like breathing.
A smile whispers from her lips.
Romance to wedding rings to children
to working long hours
to coming home late.
Out of breath.
From 40 to 20 to 15 to 12.
Love. Automatic.
Don’t even think about it,
And it slowly dies:
age stealing it like mouldy bread forgotten on the counter.
A relationship dying
that you can’t even made croutons out of.
This is breathing.

If it’s not important to us, we won’t learn it, savour it,
or even care.
Lungs know breathing is vital,
learn it well in formative years…
then slowly forget.
We do not think about it.
(In. Out. In. Out.)
Less important—
Oxygen communicating with raisins,
or trying to.
But raisins cannot hear the wind.

Meanwhile, drowning men lay alive on the shore
shouting at the sky
with every luscious (In, out. In, out).

I need you like the sun needs a sky
like shadows need darkness
like oceans need water
like mountains need rock
like trees need wood
and the wind needs trees so that you can see it is

But sometimes I forget.
Breathing becomes no more than background noise.
Like a city boy first hearing the birds sing out his window…
then forgets.
Silence can be so loud,
until we stop listening to it.
And 40 becomes 20 becomes 15 becomes 12.
This is breathing.

Let my (In, out. In, out.) not grow stagnant:
bread not turn mouldy on the shelf,
Love for you become so natural, automatic,
that I forget.
That you could leave and I wouldn’t notice…
NO! I would notice!
You remind me with every word from the silence
Every story on the wind like dancing leaves.
Let me dance with those leaves like a care-free infant—
a child with more faith than sense—
40, 50, 60 breaths a minute.
No. A second.
And I cannot tell myself that I do not need you
because I need you like breathing,
and I know what drowning feels like.

This poem was originally written for a sermon that I preached about the vitality of God in our lives. You can find the audio of the original work and accompanying sermon at klbic.org

Mother Sun

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/6965191653/

This poem is dedicated to my mother who I appreciate more and more as wisdom comes with age.


Life runs, but never tells us where it’s going.
Time swings from a rabbit’s pocket watch:
always late,
but what is that date it reaches for?
Once, we thought Mother Sun revolved around us,
but we grew out of that—
grew up—
Knowing we are just one planet chasing another around Mother Sun:
like children under-foot in the kitchen,
mice in a race for men
fearing that if we ever stop spinning
Mother Sun will not catch our fall.

Life stands in the distance, urging us on,
time cast in the shadows from Mother Sun.
Peering into those shadows we see the mysteries of history:
times before older boys had bigger toys,
when playgrounds were not made of concrete and cash
but of tree-branches walls;
butterflies held the wings with which we painted the sky,
and Jello was our favourite food group:
when Mother Sun still revolved around us.

Mother smiled at our mornings
shining food into growth on the breakfast table.
She taught us things we never wanted to learn:
“Make your bed!”
“Pick up your room!”
“Sweep the floor!”
She sparked our imagination like a match
no matter how much others rained on our parade.
She taught us how to paint the sky with ice-crystals on our breath,
but always made sure we wore a coat.
Showed that any ladder was safe to climb
if she closed her eyes, and squeezed dad’s arm
while he held the bottom.

Mother had the ability to speak softly when April showers glistened in her eyes,
but could lay on the heat when the ground needed a little scorching.
(A plant with just sun is shrivelled and will die alone.
A plant with only rain drops will drown:
too much freedom in a river, and not enough roots.)
Mother was salt and pepper, sun drops and rain kisses:
just the right amount of both.
She was the ever-present gardener,
and when we were sad—
falling apart with every Autumn leaf drop—
she reminded us of all the Summer beauty we had gone through to get here,
warned us that Winter was coming, and it would be hard,
but promised Spring:
new growth borne on the frosted wings of Winter’s butteries.

(“But when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
Jello musings beneath my feet.)
We forget about mom as we grow strong:
An aged Oak, no longer afraid of the wind storms,
and when Winter comes, we know that Spring is coming
because someone told us that once…
and she was right.

Now, as we wake up—
life pulling us by a rope,
time ticking in shadows—
we can still see Mother Sun smiling down on us.
She is always watching as we revolve around her
keeping us in order while letting us spin free.
That rain you hear dripping through your leafs?
those are her tears shared with you.
That wind whistling through field reeds and drifting on desert streams?
those are her songs for you.
The grass beneath your limbs are her arms catching your leafs when you fall.
And the sun still smiles, just as beautiful every morning.

Thievery: A Lost Art

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wrigleywrld/3910060559

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wrigleywrld/3910060559

I was told before writing was even a hobby:
“Don’t take that. It’s not yours.”

I still remember that day when I stole that toy
from the kid across the street.
See, he had different Lego than me.
But then, I had it, stuffed in pants pocket,
Pieces clanking together with each step like skeleton keys on a jailor’s ring.
I hid the pieces behind my clothes in a dresser.
Didn’t take them out for two days.
I couldn’t even play with them.

What if the neighbour came over
and asked where I got them?
Or mom asked, or… (keys rattled in my mind).
Finally, I took them out, all wrapped in an old t-shirt,
and sent them back across the street, dropped on the front steps.
Never said a word.

See, mother always said that if you want something, ask first.
There is no fear of someone finding out, if you ask first.
Now, people say, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
But I know they’re wrong.
I know what self-guilt feels like.

It feels like borrowing.
It feels like, “you are smarter than me, so I will take your words, use them, then put them back in your mouth.”
They tell me the difference between borrowing words and stealing them
is not whether you can put them back,
or if you asked permission first,
But that you say where you got them from
so that as they rattle out your mouth like Lego pieces clinking,
And someone hears them
and asks you where you got them,
you can tell them without guilt eating out your heart.

All our lives we learn how to copy—
Walking, talking, potty trained copiers—
But once we learn the basics, they say “Stop.
You are stealing!”
Like when Suzzie wanted to build a tree house
and I did, but not with her,
and she cried because I stole her idea.
“No, Suzzie, I know what stealing feels like
and this wasn’t that,”
But I never said that to her;
Just stood there, confused, later apologizing.
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Did the painter ask the sun for permission before casting it with oil on canvas?
Did the musician ask his girlfriend for permission to compare her to
the Spring showers that come to wet his desert heart?
Or should he ask the rain?
Or the clouds?
Or the sky?
Or God himself?
Does the poet ask the airwaves before pulling them in
and pushing them out with new words between the strands?
And when I am inspired to write because of someone else’s art,
Is my entire piece stolen, borrow, plagiarized…
If someone asked me where it came from, I could not tell them,
And I did not ask permission of the world before using it as my muse.

So, form hand-cuffs out of Lego bricks and
throw away the skeleton keys,
Because I will never stop being inspired,
Never stop copying other’s ideas.
Always steal words from the airwaves,
And never give them back.
And don’t tell me that it’s wrong
because I know what stealing feels like.